Bible Commentaries
Matthew 22

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-46

Chapter 22

JOY AND JUDGMENT ( Matthew 22:1-10 )

22:1-10 Jesus again answered them in parables: "The Kingdom of Heaven is like the situation which arose when a man who was a king arranged a wedding for his son. He sent his servants to summon those who had been invited to the wedding, and they refused to come. He again sent other servants. 'Tell those who have been invited,' he said, 'look you, I have my meal all prepared; my oxen and my specially fattened animals have been killed; and everything is ready. Come to the wedding.' But they disregarded the invitation and went away, one to his estate, and another to his business. The rest seized the servants and treated them shamefully and killed them. The king was angry, and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set fire to their city. Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding is ready. Those who have been invited did not deserve to come. Go, then, to the highways and invite to the wedding all you may find.' So the servants went out to the roads, and collected all whom they found, both bad and good; and the wedding was supplied with guests."

Matthew 22:1-14 form not one parable, but two; and we will grasp their meaning far more easily and far more fully if we take them separately.

The events of the first of the two were completely in accordance with normal Jewish customs. When the invitations to a great feast, like a wedding feast, were sent out, the time was not stated; and when everything was ready the servants were sent out with a final summons to tell the guests to come. So, then, the king in this parable had long ago sent out his invitations; but it was not till everything was prepared that the final summons was issued--and insultingly refused. This parable has two meanings.

(i) It has a purely local meaning. Its local meaning was a driving home of what had already been, said in the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen; once again it was an accusation of the Jews. The invited guests who when the time came refused to come, stand for the Jews. Ages ago they had been invited by God to be his chosen people; yet when God's son came into the world, and they were invited to follow him they contemptuously refused. The result was that the invitation of God went out direct to the highways and the byways; and the people in the highways and the byways stand for the sinners and the Gentiles, who never expected an invitation into the Kingdom.

As the writer of the gospel saw it, the consequences of the refusal were terrible. There is one verse of the parable which is strangely out of place; and that because it is not part of the original parable as Jesus told it, but an interpretation by the writer of the gospel. That is Matthew 22:7, which tells how the king sent his armies against those who refused the invitation, and burned their city.

This introduction of armies and the burning of the city seems at first sight completely out of place taken in connexion with invitations to a wedding feast. But Matthew was composing his gospel some time between A.D. 80 and 90. What had happened during the period between the actual life of Jesus and now? The answer is--the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Rome in A.D. 70. The Temple was sacked and burned and the city destroyed stone from stone, so that a plough was drawn across it. Complete disaster had come to those who refused to recognize the Son of God when he came.

The writer of the gospel adds as his comment the terrible things which did in fact happen to the nation which would not take the way of Christ. And it is indeed the simple historical fact that if the Jews had accepted the way of Christ, and had walked in love, in humility and in sacrifice they would never have been the rebellious, warring people who finally provoked the avenging wrath of Rome, when Rome could stand their political machinations no longer.

(ii) Equally this parable has much to say on a much wider scale.

(a) It reminds us that the invitation of God is to a feast as joyous as a wedding feast. His invitation is to joy. To think of Christianity as a gloomy giving up of everything which brings laughter and sunshine and happy fellowship is to mistake its whole nature. It is to joy that the Christian is invited; and it is joy he misses, if he refuses the invitation.

(b) It reminds us that the things which make men deaf to the invitation of Christ are not necessarily bad in themselves. One man went to his estate; the other to his business. They did not go off on a wild carousal or an immoral adventure. They went off on the, in itself, excellent task of efficiently administering their business life. It is very easy for a man to be so busy with the things of time that he forgets the things of eternity, to be so preoccupied with the things which are seen that he forgets the things which are unseen, to hear so insistently the claims of the world that he cannot hear the soft invitation of the voice of Christ. The tragedy of life is that it is so often the second bests which shut out the bests, that it is things which are good in themselves which shut out the things that are supreme. A man can be so busy making a living that he fails to make a life; he can be so busy with the administration and the organization of life that he forgets life itself.

(c) It reminds us that the appeal of Christ is not so much to consider how we will be punished as it is to see what we will miss, if we do not take his way of things. Those who would not come were punished, but their real tragedy was that they lost the joy of the wedding feast. If we refuse the invitation of Christ, some day our greatest pain will lie, not in the things we suffer, but in the realization of the precious things we have missed.

(d) It reminds us that in the last analysis God's invitation is the invitation of grace. Those who were gathered in from the highways and the byways had no claim on the king at an; they could never by any stretch of imagination have expected an invitation to the wedding feast, still less could they ever have deserved it. It came to them from nothing other than the wide-armed, open-hearted, generous hospitality of the king. It was grace which offered the invitation and grace which gathered men in.

THE SCRUTINY OF THE KING ( Matthew 22:11-14 )

22:11-14 The king came in to see those who were sitting at table, and he saw there a man who was not wearing a wedding garment. "Friend," he said to him, "how did you come here with no wedding garment?" The man was struck silent. Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hands and feet, and throw him out into the outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth there. For many are called, but few are chosen."

This is a second parable, but it is also a very close continuation and amplification of the previous one. It is the story of a guest who appeared at a royal wedding feast without a wedding garment.

One of the great interests of this parable is that in it we see Jesus taking a story which was already familiar to his hearers and using it in his own way. The Rabbis had two stories which involved kings and garments. The first told of a king who invited his guests to a feast, without telling them the exact date and time; but he did tell them that they must wash, and anoint, and clothe themselves that they might be ready when the summons came. The wise prepared themselves at once, and took their places waiting at the palace door, for they believed that in a palace a feast could be prepared so quickly that there would be no long warning. The foolish believed that it would take a long time to make the necessary preparations and that they would have plenty of time. So they went, the mason to his lime, the potter to his clay, the smith to his furnace, the fuller to his bleaching-ground, and went on with their work. Then, suddenly, the summons to the feast came without any warning. The wise were ready to sit down, and the king rejoiced over them, and they ate and drank. But those who had not arrayed themselves in their wedding garments had to stand outside, sad and hungry, and look on at the joy that they had lost. That rabbinic parable tells of the duty of preparedness for the summons of God, and the garments stand for the preparation that must be made.

The second rabbinic parable told how a king entrusted to his servants royal robes. Those who were wise took the robes, and carefully stored them away, and kept them in all their pristine loveliness. Those who were foolish wore the robes to their work, and soiled and stained them. The day came when the king demanded the robes back. The wise handed them back fresh and clean; so the king laid up the robes in his treasury and bade them go in peace. The foolish handed them back stained and soiled. The king commanded that the robes should be given to the fuller to cleanse, and that the foolish servants should be cast into prison. This parable teaches that a man must hand back his soul to God in all its original purity; but that the man who has nothing but a stained soul to render back stands condemned.

No doubt Jesus had these two parables in mind when he told his own story. What, then, was he seeking to teach? This parable also contains both a local and a universal lesson.

(i) The local lesson is this. Jesus has just said that the king, to supply his feast with guests, sent his messengers out into the highways and byways to gather all men in. That was the parable of the open door. It told how the Gentiles and the sinners would be gathered in. This parable strikes the necessary balance. It is true that the door is open to an men, but when they come they must bring a life which seeks to fit the love which has been given to them. Grace is not only a gift; it is a grave responsibility. A man cannot go on living the life he lived before he met Jesus Christ. He must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness and a new goodness. The door is open, but the door is not open for the sinner to come and remain a sinner, but for the sinner to come and become a saint.

(ii) This is the permanent lesson. The way in which a man comes to anything demonstrates the spirit in which he comes. If we go to visit in a friend's house, we do not go in the clothes we wear in the shipyard or the garden. We know very well that it is not the clothes which matter to the friend. It is not that we want to put on a show. It is simply a matter of respect that we should present ourselves in our friend's house as neatly as we can. The fact that we prepare ourselves to go there is the way in which we outwardly show our affection and our esteem for our friend. So it is with God's house. This parable has nothing to do with the clothes in which we go to church; it has everything to do with the spirit in which we go to God's house. It is profoundly true that church-going must never be a fashion parade. But there are garments of the mind and of the heart and of the soul--the garment of expectation, the garment of humble penitence, the garment of faith, the garment of reverence--and these are the garments without which we ought not to approach God. Too often we go to God's house with no preparation at all; if every man and woman in our congregations came to church prepared to worship, after a little prayer, a little thought, and a little self-examination, then worship would be worship indeed--the worship in which and through which things happen in men's souls and in the life of the Church and in the affairs of the world.

HUMAN AND DIVINE RIGHT ( Matthew 22:15-22 )

22:15-22 Then the Pharisees came, and tried to form a plan to ensnare him in his speech. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know that you are true, and that you teach the way of God in truth, and that you never allow yourself to be swayed by any man, for you are no respecter of persons. Tell us, then, your opinion--is it right to pay tribute to Caesar, or not?" Jesus was well aware of their malice. "Hypocrites," he said, "why do you try to test me? Show me the tribute coin." They brought him a denarius. "Whose image is this," he said to them, "and whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they said to him. "Well then," he said to them, "render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and to God the things which are God's." When they heard this answer, they were amazed, and left him and went away.

Up to this point we have seen Jesus, as it were, on the attack. He had spoken three parables in which he had plainly indicted the orthodox Jewish leaders. In the parable of the two sons ( Matthew 21:28-32) the Jewish leaders appear under the guise of the unsatisfactory son who did not do his father's will. In the parable of the wicked husbandmen ( Matthew 21:33-46) they are the wicked husbandmen. In the parable of the king's feast ( Matthew 22:1-14) they are the condemned guests.

Now we see the Jewish leaders launching their counterattack; and they do so by directing at Jesus carefully formulated questions. They ask these questions in public, while the crowd look on and listen, and their aim is to make Jesus discredit himself by his own words in the presence of the people. Here, then, we have the question of the Pharisees, and it was subtly framed. Palestine was an occupied country and the Jews were subject to the Roman Empire; and the question was: "Is it, or is it not, lawful to pay tribute to Rome?"

There were, in fact, three regular taxes which the Roman government exacted. There was a ground tax; a man must pay to the government one tenth of the grain, and one fifth of the oil and wine which he produced; this tax was paid partly in kind, and partly in a money equivalent. There was income tax, which was one per cent of a man's income. There was a poll tax; this tax had to be paid by every male person from the age of fourteen to the age of sixty-five, and by every female person from the age of twelve to sixty-five; it amounted to one denarius ( G1220) --that is what Jesus called the tribute coin--and was the equivalent of about 4p, a sum which is to be evaluated in the awareness that 3p was the usual day's wage for a working-man. The tax in question here is the poll tax.

The question which the Pharisees asked set Jesus a very real dilemma. If he said that it was unlawful to pay the tax, they would promptly report him to the Roman government officials as a seditious person and his arrest would certainly follow. If he said that it was lawful to pay the tax, he would stand discredited in the eyes of many of the people. Not only did the people resent the tax as everyone resents taxation; they resented it even more for religious reasons. To a Jew God was the only king; their nation was a theocracy; to pay tax to an earthly king was to admit the validity of his kingship and thereby to insult God. Therefore the more fanatical of the Jews insisted that any tax paid to a foreign king was necessarily wrong. Whichever way Jesus might answer--so his questioners thought-he would lay himself open to trouble.

The seriousness of this attack is shown by the fact that the Pharisees and the Herodians combined to make it, for normally these two parties were in bitter opposition. The Pharisees were the supremely orthodox, who resented the payment of the tax to a foreign king as an infringement of the divine right of God. The Herodians were the party of Herod, king of Galilee, who owed his power to the Romans and who worked hand in glove with them. The Pharisees and the Herodians were strange bed-fellows indeed; their differences were for the moment forgotten in a common hatred of Jesus and a common desire to eliminate him. Any man who insists on his own way, no matter what it is, will hate Jesus.

This question of tax-paying was not of merely historical interest. Matthew was writing between A.D. 80 and 90. The Temple had been destroyed in A.D. 70. So long as it stood, every Jew had been bound to pay the half-shekel Temple tax. After the destruction of the Temple, the Roman government demanded that that tax should be paid to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome. It is obvious how bitter a regulation that was for a Jew to stomach. The matter of taxes was a real problem in the actual ministry of Jesus; and it was still a real problem in the days of the early Church.

But Jesus was wise. He asked to see a denarius, which was stamped with the Emperor's head. In the ancient days coinage was the sign of kingship. As soon as a king came to the throne he struck his own coinage; even a pretender would produce a coinage to show the reality of his kingship; and that coinage was held to be the property of the king whose image it bore. Jesus asked whose image was on the coin. The answer was that Caesar's head was on it. "Well then," said Jesus, "give it back to Caesar; it is his. Give to Caesar what belongs to him; and give to God what belongs to him."

With his unique wisdom Jesus never laid down rules and regulations; that is why his teaching is timeless and never goes out of date. He always lays down principles. Here he lays down a very great and very important one.

Every Christian man has a double citizenship. He is a citizen of the country in which he happens to live. To it he owes many things. He owes the safety against lawless men which only settled government can give; he owes all public services. To take a simple example, few men are wealthy enough to have a lighting system or a cleansing system or a water system of their own. These are public services. In a welfare state the citizen owes still more to the state--education, medical services, provision for unemployment and old age. This places him under a debt of obligation. Because the Christian is a man of honour, he must be a responsible citizen; failure in good citizenship is also failure in Christian duty. Untold troubles can descend upon a country or an industry when Christians refuse to take their part in the administration and leave it to selfish, self-seeking, partisan, and unchristian men. The Christian has a duty to Caesar in return for the privileges which the rule of Caesar brings to him.

But the Christian is also a citizen of heaven. There are matters of religion and of principle in which the responsibility of the Christian is to God. It may well be that the two citizenships will never clash; they do not need to. But when the Christian is convinced that it is God's will that something should be done, it must be done; or, if he is convinced that something is against the will of God, he must resist it and take no part in it. Where the boundaries between the two duties lie, Jesus does not say. That is for a man's own conscience to test. But a real Christian--and this is the permanent truth which Jesus here lays down--is at one and the same time a good citizen of his country and a good citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. He will fail in his duty neither to God nor to man. He will, as Peter said, "Fear God. Honour the emperor" ( 1 Peter 2:17).

THE LIVING GOD OF LIVING MEN ( Matthew 22:23-33 )

22:23-33 On that day the Sadducees, who deny that there is any resurrection, came to him, and questioned him. "Teacher," they said, "Moses said, 'If anyone dies without children, his brother shall marry his wife, and shall raise up a family for his brother.' Amongst us there were seven brothers. The first married and died, and, since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened with the second and the third, right to the end of the seven of them. Last of all the woman died. Of which of the seven will she be the wife in the resurrection? For they all had her." Jesus answered: "You are in error, because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. In the resurrection they neither marry nor are married, but they are as the angels in heaven. Now, in regard to the resurrection of the dead, have you never read what God said, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' God is not the God of dead men, but of those who live." When the crowds heard this answer, they were amazed at his teaching.

When the Pharisees had made their counter-attack on Jesus and been routed, the Sadducees took up the battle.

The Sadducees were not many in number; but they were the wealthy, the aristocratic, and the governing class. The chief priests, for instance, were Sadducees. In politics they were collaborationist; quite ready to cooperate with the Roman government, if co-operation was the price of the retention of their own privileges. In thought they were quite ready to open their minds to Greek ideas. In their Jewish belief they were traditionalists. They refused to accept the oral and scribal law, which to the Pharisees was of such paramount importance. They went even further; the only part of scripture which they regarded as binding was the Pentateuch, the Law par excellence, the first five books of the Old Testament. They did not accept the prophets or the poetical books as scripture at all. In particular they were at variance with the Pharisees in that they completely denied any life after death, a belief on which the Pharisees insisted. The Pharisees indeed laid it down that any man who denied the resurrection of the dead was shut out from God.

The Sadducees insisted that the doctrine of life after death could not be proved from the Pentateuch. The Pharisees said that it could and it is interesting to look at the proofs which they adduced. They cited Numbers 18:28 which says, "You shall give the Lord's offering to Aaron the priest." That is permanent regulation; the verb is in the present tense; therefore Aaron is still alive! They cited Deuteronomy 31:16: "This people will rise," a peculiarly unconvincing citation, for the second half of the verse goes on, "and play the harlot after the strange gods of the land"! They cited Deuteronomy 32:39: "I kill and I make alive." Outside the Pentateuch they cited Isaiah 26:19: "Thy dead shall live." It cannot be said that any of the citations of the Pharisees were really convincing; and no real argument for the resurrection of the dead had ever been produced from the Pentateuch.

The Pharisees were very definite about the resurrection of the body. They discussed recondite points--Would a man rise clothed or unclothed? If clothed, would he rise with the clothes in which he died, or other clothes? They used 1 Samuel 28:14 (the witch of Endor's raising of the spirit of Samuel at the request of Saul) to prove that after death men retain the appearance they had in this world. They even argued that men rose with the physical defects with which, and from which they died--otherwise they would not be the same persons! All Jews would be resurrected in the Holy Land, so they said that under the earth there were cavities and, when a Jew was buried in a foreign land, his body rolled through these cavities until it reached the homeland. The Pharisees held as a primary doctrine the bodily resurrection of the dead; the Sadducees completely denied it.

The Sadducees produced a question which, they believed, reduced the doctrine of the resurrection of the body to an absurdity. There was a Jewish custom called Levirate Marriage. How far it was ever carried out in practice is very doubtful. If a man died childless, his brother was under obligation to marry the widow, and to beget children for his brother; such children were legally regarded as the brother's children. If the man refused to marry the widow, they must both go to the elders. The woman must loosen the man's shoe, spit in his face, and curse him; and the man was thereafter under a stigma of refusal ( Deuteronomy 25:5-10). The Sadducees cited a case of Levirate Marriage in which seven brothers, each dying childless, one after another married the same woman; and then asked, "When the resurrection takes place, whose wife will this much-married woman be?" Here indeed was a catch question.

Jesus began by laying down one principle--the whole question starts from a basic error, the error of thinking of heaven in terms of earth, and of thinking of eternity in terms of time. Jesus' answer was that anyone who reads scripture must see that the question is irrelevant, for heaven is not going to be simply a continuation or an extension of this world. There will be new and greater relationships which will far transcend the physical relationships of time.

Then Jesus went on to demolish the whole Sadducean position. They had always held that there was no text in the Pentateuch which could be used to prove the resurrection of the dead. Now, what was one of the commonest titles of God in the Pentateuch? "The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob." God cannot be the God of dead men and of mouldering corpses. The living God must be the God of living men. The Sadducean case was shattered. Jesus had done what the wisest Rabbis had never been able to do. Out of Scripture itself he had confuted the Sadducees, and had shown them that there is a life after death which must not be thought of in earthly terms. The crowds were amazed at a man who was a master of argument like this, and even the Pharisees can hardly have forborne to cheer.

DUTY TO GOD AND DUTY TO MAN ( Matthew 22:34-40 )

22:34-40 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. One of them, who was an expert in the Law, asked him a question as a test: "What commandment in the Law is greatest?" He said to him, "'You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and your whole soul, and your whole mind.' This is the great and the chief commandment; and the second is like it, 'You must love your neighbour as yourself.' On these two commandments the whole Law and the prophets depend."

In Matthew this question looks like a return to the attack on the part of the Pharisees; but in Mark the atmosphere is different. As Mark tells the story ( Mark 12:28-34) the scribe did not ask Jesus this question to trip him up. He asked it in gratitude that Jesus had confuted the Sadducees and to enable Jesus to demonstrate how well he could answer; and the passage ends with the scribe and Jesus very close to each other.

We may well say that here Jesus laid down the complete definition of religion.

(i) Religion consists in loving God. The verse which Jesus quotes is Deuteronomy 6:5. That verse was part of the Shema, the basic and essential creed of Judaism, the sentence with which every Jewish service still opens, and the first text which every Jewish child commits to memory. It means that to God we must give a total love, a love which dominates our emotions, a love which directs our thoughts, and a love which is the dynamic of our actions. All religion starts with the love which is total commitment of life to God.

(ii) The second commandment which Jesus quotes comes from Leviticus 19:18. Our love for God must issue in love for men. But it is to be noted in which order the commandments come; it is love of God first, and love of man second. It is only when we love God that man becomes lovable. The Biblical teaching about man is not that man is a collection of chemical elements, not that man is part of the brute creation, but that man is made in the image of God ( Genesis 1:26-27). It is for that reason that man is lovable. The true basis of all democracy is in fact the love of God. Take away the love of God and we can become angry at man the unteachable; we can become pessimistic about man the unimprovable; we can become callous to man the machine-minder. The love of man is firmly grounded in the love of God.

To be truly religious is to love God and to love the men whom God made in his own image; and to love God and man, not with a nebulous sentimentality, but with that total commitment which issues in devotion to God and practical service of men.

NEW HORIZONS ( Matthew 22:41-46 )

22:41-46 When the Pharisees had come together, Jesus asked them a question: "What is your opinion about The Anointed One? Whose son is he?" "David's son," they said. He said to them, "How, then, does David in the Spirit call Him Lord, when he says, 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand till I put your enemies beneath your feet.' If David calls Him Lord, how is he his son?" And no one was able to give him any answer. And from that day no one any longer dared to ask him a question.

To us this may seem one of the most obscure things which Jesus ever said. This may be so, but none the less it is a most important statement. Even if, at first sight, we do not fully grasp its meaning, we can still feel the air of awe and astonishment and mystery which it has about it.

We have seen again and again that Jesus refused to allow his followers to proclaim him as the Messiah until he had taught them what Messiahship meant. Their ideas of Messiahship needed the most radical change.

The commonest title of the Messiah was Son of David. Behind it lay the expectation that there would one day come a great prince of the line of David who would shatter Israel's enemies and lead the people to the conquest of all nations. The Messiah was most commonly thought of in nationalistic, political, military terms of power and glory. This is another attempt by Jesus to alter that conception.

He asked the Pharisees whose son they understood the Messiah to be: they answered, as he knew they would, "David's son." Jesus then quotes Psalm Isaiah 10:1: "The Lord says to my Lord; Sit at my right hand." All accepted that as a Messianic text. In it the first Lord is God; the second Lord is the Messiah. That is to say David calls the Messiah Lord. But, if the Messiah is David's son, how could David call his own son Lord?

The clear result of the argument is that it is not adequate to call the Messiah Son of David. He is not David's son; he is David's Lord. When Jesus healed the blind men, they called him Son of David ( Matthew 20:30). When he entered Jerusalem the crowds hailed him as Son of David ( Matthew 21:9). Jesus is here saying, "It is not enough to call the Messiah Son of David. It is not enough to think of him as a Prince of David's line and an earthly conqueror. You must go beyond that, for the Messiah is David's Lord."

What did Jesus mean? He can have meant only one thing--that the true description of him is Son of God. Son of David is not an adequate title; only Son of God will do. And, if that be so, Messiahship is not to be thought of in terms of Davidic conquest, but in terms of divine and sacrificial love. Here, then, Jesus makes his greatest claim. In him there came, not the earthly conqueror who would repeat the military triumphs of David, but the Son of God who would demonstrate the love of God upon his Cross.

There would be few that day who caught anything like all that Jesus meant; but when Jesus spoke these words, even the densest of them felt a shiver in the presence of the eternal mystery. They had the awed and the uncomfortable feeling that they had heard the voice of God, and for a moment, in this man Jesus, they glimpsed God's very face.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Matthew 22". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.